Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Sourdough Starter

I've always been fascinated by gastronomy. The science behind how different ingredients interact with each other, cooking processes, new and old all just blows my mind. My earliest memory of this comes from when I was probably about 6 or 7, and my mom and her friends started passing around a sourdough starter to make Amish Friendship Bread. The concept was kinda chain letter-ish...basically you'd take a cup of the starter to make a loaf, then pass two cups onto the next person. They'd then feed the starter with flour and water, give it a couple of days to grow and then start the process all over again. I remember being amazed by the idea of this everlasting food source and it's something that's always stuck with me. And so now, twenty years later I'm giving it a go myself. Funnily enough, none of the other Amish-like traditions seemed to stick...
Ready for a poorly construed science lesson? Most breads use fresh or dried yeast as a rising agent. Sourdough works a little differently. It's all about FER-MEN-TAY-SHUN. You combine flour with water, and over time natural yeasts start to develop until you've a stable culture that both adds flavour to the bread as well as allowing it to rise. A little bit of research told me that a few grapes work wonders when creating your starter. They start to ferment in the mixture, which really speeds up the whole process. Sounds kinda gross right? Get over it.
Mix equal parts of strong bread flour and water with a few chopped grapes until you've got a nice sticky dough, then pour it into a large jar and forget about it for a few days. Go read a couple of books, go to work, have a long nap. I'm sure you can find something to do.
After a couple of days the mixture will have doubled in size and is looking all bubbly. Kinda like a bread soda. Oh, and it smells STINKY. That just means it's working. Take half of the mixture out and chuck it away, it's no good to you. Feed the starter with more flour and water - equal parts - give it a good stir and then seal it up again. Think of it as a pet - a doughy, stinky pet.
Mine's been sat for about 4 days now...I'll probably give it the same again and then start thinking about some bread to bake, I'll let you know how I get on. Just gotta remember to keep feeding it every few days, and this stuff will literally last forever. I mean, I've heard of decades-old starters being sold at auctions for big money...crazy stuff right? Food is so cool.


  1. Ok Ok Ok. So I've been wanting to make sourdough for a long (like years) time. I've started a starter a few times and I pretty much flop every time. Definitely giving the grapes a try. Keep me (and the rest of the world!) posted on your sourdough starter progress!

  2. Oooh...I'm looking forward to hearing how your sourdough turns out. I did mine a couple years ago and he's (Yes, it's a he, and I've even named him because like you's like a pet. A stinky, sticky mess of a pet) been alive and thriving and making bread for a couple of years now!

    1. I'm very impressed and will come to you for tips in the future!

      Mine (he) did ok, I had a nightmare with the proving though and lost half the dough. Then a bit of a sinkage problem so what I ended up with was a very flat sourdough loaf that ended up as sourdough biscotti. good flavour, let down by the baker!

      how much starter do you usually use? the recipe i had called for 300ml which pretty much wiped me out so i need to start all over again..